PINEDALE – The middle school years frequently conjure up negative memories.
“A lot of people had a bad experience when it comes to middle school,” said Tyler Walker, the new assistant principal and activities director and Pinedale Middle School.
Walker believes teachers and administrators can turn middle school into a positive, welcoming place, where dread for the sixth grade is replaced with excitement.
“My goal is providing a safe, fun, nurturing place where kids can come seven, eight hours a day and be themselves,” he said. “I took pride in providing that in my classroom when I was a teacher. Now I can help create that environment within the whole school.”
Only weeks into his first administrative position, Walker realized Pinedale Middle School was the perfect fit – a place where young people want to come and learn.
“Our staff here is phenomenal,” he said. “They are such a team and they support each other. They do whatever they can to help kids. I feel really lucky to be graced with this opportunity. I can’t see myself being anywhere else right now.”
Education seemed like a natural career path for Walker. His father taught math, coached basketball and worked his way up to an administrative job in Douglas, Wyo. Walker’s mother teaches elementary school.
Growing up, however, Walker admitted he “was never the biggest fan of school.”
“It didn’t come easy to me,” he said. “I had to work hard for it. I was more your B, your C guy. Even in college, I had to really work for it. It did not come naturally.”
Sports did come naturally to Walker. He quickly learned the opportunity to excel on the gridiron or in the gym was “a privilege, not a right,” earned through good grades and behavior.
“Playing football and playing basketball was a huge motivation to do well in school,” Walker said.
Walker’s coaches emphasized humility and teamwork, teaching him that each person on the team was a member of the family regardless of who they were and what position they played.
“I remember having great coaches that put kids first. They did such a good job helping us understand how important every role is. You might not be the star, you might not be the guy that throws four touchdowns or runs 150 yards per game. But every role on the team is vital and without it, you don’t have success.”
Walker continued to watch and learn from his parents. They demonstrated how working with young people fostered “the future of your community, your town, your state and world.”
He also learned the best leadership is through example.
“That’s always been in my back pocket,” he said. “If I expect something from somebody, whether it’s a student or a staff member, I’m going to show through my actions that that’s the way it needs to be done.”
Walker decided to follow in his parents’ footsteps during the summer between his junior and senior year in high school while working at football camp.
“Getting in there and helping kids with something I was really passionate about and watching them learn those skills – going from frustration to, ‘Ah, I’ve got it!’ was awesome.”
Middle school – the right place to be
Walker studied elementary education at Black Hills State University in South Dakota. He taught in South Dakota and Colorado and coached middle and high school football and basketball before returning to Douglas, where he got married and started a family.
“My wife has always been a big inspiration,” he said. “She and my children challenge me to be the best version of myself every single day.”
Following several years teaching second grade in Douglas, Walker transferred to fifth grade. He continued to coach middle school football and boys’ and girls’ basketball.
Walker enjoyed working with the middle school cohort.
“They’re maturing, they’re figuring who they are as a person,” he said. “They don’t think they’re know-it-alls yet. They’re not super mature and they still have that kid aspect to them.”
Walker set his sights on becoming an activities director. He believed success in extra-curricular activities went hand-in-hand with academic success, echoing lessons he learned as a child.
Returning to school, Walker received a master’s in K-12 administration from Chadron State College in Nebraska.
The assistant principal and activities director position opened at Pinedale Middle School and Walker decided to take the leap. During the interview process, Walker was impressed by the school district’s culture and community involvement. His family found Pinedale’s tight-knit community atmosphere appealing.
Moving away from family in Douglas was not easy, but Walker was ready to change his allegiance from a Bearcat to a Wrangler.
“I’m so happy to be here. I can’t express that enough. Our kids are going to go to school here, be Wranglers, and hopefully graduate as Wranglers too.”